Deep Green Resistance
Strategy to Save the Planet
Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen
Seven Stories Press, New York (USA), 2011 (2011)
556 pages, including notes and index

Although Deep Green Resistance is signed by three authors, Derrick Jensen is truly the best know of them all. Also, Jensen has been perhaps the most prolific defender of the point of view documented in this volume that, to some extent, caused a good amount of controversy among the ranks of the US environmentalist movement when it was published (or, at the very least, among its most militant members). As a matter of fact, the book has become such an important element of debate within those who care about environmentalism that certain people already talk about a movement within the movement.

We get a pretty good idea of the overall tone of this book from the very beginning. We read the following at the beginning of the preface, authored by Derrick Jensen:

This book is about fighting back. The dominant culture —civilization— is killing the planet, and it is long past time for those of us who care about life on earth to begin taking the actions necessary to stop this culture from destroying every living being.

By now we all know the statistics and trends: 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone, there is ten times as much plastic as phytoplankton in the oceans, 97 percent of native forests are destroyed, 98 percent of native grasslands are destroyed, amphibian populations are collapsing, migratory songbird populations are collapsing, mollusk populations are collapsing, fish populations are collapsing, and so on. Two hundred species are driven extinct each and every day. If we don't know those statistics and trends, we should.

This culture destroys landbases. That's what it does. When you think of Iraq, is the first thing that comes to mind cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touched the ground? One of the first written myths of this culture is about Gilgamesh deforesting the hills and valleys of Iraq to build a great city. The Arabian Peninsula used to be oak savannah. The Near East was heavily forested (we've all heard of the cedars of Lebanon). Greece was heavily forested. North Africa was heavily forested.

We'll say it again: this culture destroys landbases.

And it won't stop doing so because we ask nicely.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 11)

It is precisely that last sentence that differentiates this book from other environmentalist books that have been written over the last few decades, and also the key idea that generated a lot of debate among US enviromentalists when it was published.

The first part of the book, titled Resistance, begins with a chapter by Lierre Keith describing "the problem":

What is your personal carrying capacity for grief, rage, despair? We are living in a period of mass extinction. The numbers stand at 200 species a day. That's 73,000 a year. This culture is oblivious to their passing, feels entitled to their every last niche, and there is no roll call on the nightly news.

There is a name for the tsunami wave of extermination: the Holocene extinction event. There's no asteroid this time, only human behavior, behavior that we could choose to stop. Adolph Eichmann's excuse was that no one told him that the concentration camps were wrong. We've all seen the pictures of the drowning polar bears. Are we so ethically numb that we need to be told this is wrong?

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 21-22)

And yet, Keith argues, instead of truly facing the problem in all its crudity and doing something about it, we prefer to waste time with poses and half-baked "solutions" that will never address the ultimate source of the problem: our industrial civilization itself. We choose to play the "conscious green consumer", the feel-good progressive who, in reality, is not willing to give up all his/her comfort to save the planet.

The word sustainable —the "Praise, Jesus!" of the eco-earnest— serves as an example of the worst tendencies of the alternative culture. It's a word that perfectly meshes corporate marketers' carefully calculated upswell of green sentiment with the relentless denial of the privileged. It's a word I can barely stand to use because it has been so exsanguinated by cheerleaders for a technotopic, consumer kingdom come. To doubt the vague promise now firmly embedded in the word —that we can have our cars, our corporations, and our planet, too— is both treason and heresy to the emotional well-being of most progressives. But here's the question: Do we want to feel better or do we want to be effective? Are we sentimentalists or are we warriors?

For "sustainable" to mean anything, we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary. The life-producing work of a million species is literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on. No human activity —not the vacuous, not the sublime— is worth more than that matrix. Neither, in the end, is any human life. If we use the word "sustainable" and don't mean that, then we are liars of the worst sort: the kind who let atrocities happen while we stand by and do nothing.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 25)

In other words, Keith does not believe that changing our lifestyle or making different choices in our daily consumption will help much:

So what are our options? The usual aproach of long, slow institutional change has been foreclosed, and many of us know that. The default setting for environmentalists has become personal lifestyle "choices." This should have been predictable as it merges perfectly into the demands of capitalism, especially the condensed corporate version mediating our every impulse into their profit. But we can't consume our way out of environmental collapse; consumption is the problem. We might be forgiven for initially accepting an exhortation to "simple living" as a solution to that consumption, especially as the major environmental organizations and the media have declared lifestyle change our First Commandment. Have you accpeted compact fluorescents as your personal savior? But lifestyle change is not a solution as it doesn't address the root of the problem.

We have believed such ridiculous solutions because our perception has been blunted by some portion of denial and despair. And those are legitimate reactions. I'm not persuading anyone out of them. But do we want to develop a strategy to manage our emotional state or to save the planet?

And we've believed in these lifestyle solutions because everyone around us insists they're workable, a collective repeating mantra of "renewables, recycling" that has dulled us into belief. Like Eichmann, no one has told us that it's wrong.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 27)

The first part continues with a second chapter titled Civilization and Other Hazards, written by Aric McBay. He starts by stating that the ultimate root cause of the problem is industrial civilization in what truly amounts to a rehash or summary of the well known arguments put forward by the so-called Anarcho-Primitivism:

The crises facing the planet do not stem from human nature, but from, as we previously discussed, the mode of social and political organization we call civilization. What do we need to know about civilization to defeat it?

It is globalized. Civilization spans the globe and, despite superficial political boundaries, is integrated infrastructurally and economically. Any local resistance effort faces an opponent with global resources, so effective strategies must be enacted around the world. However, civilization approaches finite limits —83 percent of the biosphere is already under direct human influence.

It is mechanized. An industrial civilization requires machines for production. Mechanization has centralized political and economic power by moving the means of production beyond the scale at which human communities function equitably and democratically. It has created a dramatic population spike (through industrial fishing, logging, and so on). Most humans are now dependent on industrial "production," while the system itself is utterly dependent on finite minerals and energy-dense fossil fuels.

It is very young on cultural, ecological, and geological timescales, but seems old on a personal timescale. Civilized history spans a few thousand years, human history several millions, and ecological history several billions. But since much traditional knowledge has been lost or destroyed by those in power in order to glorify civilization, normalize their oppression, and render alternative ways of living unthinkable, we have the impression that civilization is as old as time.

It is primarily an urban phenomenon. Civilizations emerge from and promote the growth of cities. Cities offer a pool of workers who, crowded together and severed from the land, must labor to survive. Urban areas are densely surveiled and policed. Urban areas are epicentres of strife when civilizations fall; as Lewis Mumford wrote, "Each historic civilization... begins with a living urban core, the polis, and ends in a common graveyard of dust and bones, a Necropolis, or city of the dead: fire-scorched ruins, shattered buildings, empty workshops, heaps of meaningless refuse, the population massacred or driven into slavery."

It employs an extensive division of labor and high degree of social stratification. Specialization increases production, but a narrow focus prevents most people from making systemic criticisms of civilization; they are too worried about their immediate lives and problems to look at the big picture. Similarly, social stratification keeps power cerntralized and maintains an underclass to perform undesirable labor. Modern civilization, with its vast manufacturing capacity, has so far produced a large middle class in the rich nations, a historically unique circumstance. Though such people are unwilling to risk this privilege by challenging industrial society, prolonging collapse will ensure that they lose that privilege —and much more.

It is militarized. Civilizastions intrinsically expansionist and voracious, are intensely competitive. The military is prioritized in politics, industry, and science, and this sometimes rears its head as overt fascism. Control of citizens is implemented through police. As anthropologist Stanley Diamond wrote, "Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home." Glorification of the military causes people to identify with the state and its spectacular violence, and advertises the consequences of fighting back.

Closely related, and in spite of feminist advances, civilization is patriarchal and exalts masculinity. Civilization systematically oppresses women and celebrates the masculine expression of power and violence.

It is based on large-scale agriculture. Hunting, gathering, and horticulture cannot support civilizations. Only intensive, large-scale agriculture can provide the "surplus" to support cities and specialized elites. Historical agriculture was heavily dependent on slavery, serfdom, and cruelties. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum, an arrangement that will not last.

From the beginning it has been predicated on perpetual growth. This growth is inseparable from agriculture and settlement; settlement requires agriculture, which results in population growth and militarized elites who control the resources, and begins to overburden and destroy the local landbase.

Societies, cultures, and businesses that expand in the short term do so at the expense of entities that grow more slowly (or not at all), regardless of long-term consequences. In other words, civilization is characterized by short-term thinking; the structure of civilization rewards those who think in the short term and those who take more than they give back. Because those in power take more than they give back, they often win in the short term. But because ultimately you cannot win by taking more from the lan than it gives willingly, they must lose in the long term.

Because of its drive toward war, ecological destructiveness, and perpetual expansion in a finite world, the history of civilizations is defined by collapse. Throghout history, civilizations havce either collapsed or been conquered, the conquerors going on to meet one or both of those fates. Collapse is the typical, not exceptional, outcome for a civilization. As Gibbon> wrote of Rome: "The story of the ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it subsisted for so long."

Civilization is hierarchical and centralized both politically and infrastructurally. This is self-perpetuating; those in power want more power, and they have the means to get it. Superficially, global power is held by a number of different national governments; in the modern day those governments are mostly in the thrall of a corporate capitalist elite. In social terms, civilization's hierarchy is pervasive and standardized; most political and corporate leaders are interchangeable, replaceable components. The corollary of the centralization of power is the externalization of consequences (such as destroying the planet). Wherever possible, the poor and nonhumans are made to experience those consequences so the wealthy can remain comfortable.

Hierarchy and centralization result in increasing regulation of behavior and increasing regimentation. With the destruction of traditional kinship systems and methods of conflict resolution caused by the expansion of civilization and the rise of heavily populated urban centers, those in power have imposed their own laws and systems to enforce hierarchy and regulation.

As a means of enforcing hierarchy and regulation, civilization also makes major investments in monumental architecture and propaganda. Past civilizations had pyramids, coliseums, and vast military marches to impress or cow their populations. Although modern civilizations still have monumental architecture (especially in the form of superstores and megamalls), the wealthier human population is immersed in virtual architecture —a twenty-four-hour digital spectacle of noise and propaganda.

Civilization also requires large amounts of human labor, and is based on either compelling that labor directly or systematically removing feasible livelihood alternatives. We're often told that civilization was a step forward which freed people from the "grind" of subsistence. If that were true, then the history of civilization would not be rife with slavery, conquest, and the spread of religious and political systems by the sword. Spending your life as a laborer for sociopaths is only appealing if equitable land-based communities —and the landabse itself— are destroyed. In other words, civilization perpetuates itself by producing deliberate conditions of scarcity and deprivation.

Civilization is capable of making the Earth uninhabitable for humans and the majority of living species. Historical civilizations self-destructed before causing global damage, but global industrial civilization has been far more damaging than its predecessors. We no longer have the option of waiting it out. There is nowhere left to go. Civilization will collapse one way or another, and it's our job to insure that something is left afterward.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 33-36)

Excuse the very long quote but, as I said, I think it is one of the best summaries of the main tenants of Anarcho-Primitivism, an idea that is also represented by people such as John Zerzan or Daniel Quinn (sure, I understand using labels is quite limiting and there are disagreements between these authors but, at the same time, it makes it easier to discuss ideas). The anti-civilization hypothesis is certainly quite radical, and it goes against the grain of what we have been taught. That is precisely the whole point. We continuously think about everything that surrounds us (and, obviously, that includes the problems we face) from "inside the box" (i.e., from inside the mental framework that we learned while growing up), which by definition is the wrong thing to do when facing the collapse of a civilization. When the very mechanisms that propel the engine of a particular civilization are the ones that bring it to the very edge of the cliff, it is clearly a waste of time and energy to continue adjusting this or that part of the very engine that is collapsing. We may be able to delay the end, but we will never stop it from happening. In that sense, the hypothesis is quite logical, I think. McBay and others make a good argument, I believe, as to why the ultimate cause of the problem is civilization itself. Again, it may sound counter-intuitive. It may be something we often refuse to accept, mainly because we are too afraid of the consequences. But the logic is, I think, irrefutable. We see on a daily basis. We see the consequences of civilization on the environment and even on human life itself.

Now, it is extremely important, if we truly want to understand the anti-civilization hypothesis correctly, that we realize that this is not a story about "evil people" versus "good people". In the end, it is not a matter of personal choice, but rather about systemic trends. We cannot simply decide to stay within this industrial civilization and "be nice" to the environment, just as nobody could have accepted the legitimacy of the Nazi regime and "be nice" to the Jews, homsexuals and leftists who were being murdered in the concentration camps. Simple technical solutions will not do much to change our current situation, and McBay offers some examples:

The food crisis is deeply tied to two other ecological crises: water drawdown and soil loss. Industrial water consumption is drying up rivers and swallowing entire aquifers around the world. Although shallow groundwater can gradually be replenished by rainfall, when those supplies become depleted many farms and industries use deep wells with powerful pumps to extract water from fossil aquifers, which aren't replenished by rainfall. This shift to industrial drilling for water —essentially water mining— has caused major drops in water tables. In India, for example, deep electrically pumped wells used by large cash-crop monoculture farms have caused a major drop in water tables. This means small and subsistence farmers who use hand wells are losing their water supplies, a disaster which has caused a dramatic rise in suicides. Approximately half of hand-dug wells in India —up to 95 percent of all wells in some regions— are now dry, driving an abandonment of rural villages.

In the grain-growing regions of central China, the water table is dropping about 3 meters (10 feet) per year, and up to twice as fast in other areas. Chinese wheat production fell by 34 million tons between 1998 and 2005, a gap larger than the annual wheat production of Canada. In Saudi Arabia (as well as other countries), the technology being used for well drilling is now a modified version of oil drilling technology, because many wells must exceed one kilometer in depth to reach fresh water.

Access to groundwater has always allowed agriculturalists to occassionally consume more water than rained down each year, but now farming around the world has become dependent on its overconsumption. And make no mistake, drawdown of aquifers through deep drilling and pumping is utterly driven by an dependent on a highly industrialized culture. Without industrial hierarchy, even the most unsustainable society would be limited to drawing the amount of water that the water table could sustainably recharge each year. Furthermore, water used by industry and agriculture far outweighs residential water use, and typically less than 1 percent of residential water is actually used for drinking.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 44-45)

Which is precisely why changing our personal consumption patterns won't do much to save us. Sure, it will delay the final moment. Yes, it will help for a while, but it won't change the course. Again, it is not a matter of moral choice. It is not a matter of "good versus evil people". It is not the typical story so cherished by progressives all around the world where "the people" are pitted against "the powerful". No. We are all part of the problem, and that is what needs to change. The problem is systemic, not individual. As McBay points a few pages later:

It's true that there is a growing interest in ecology and living sustainably in much of the world. But regardless of how you measure it, you cannot reasonably argue that this psychological shift toward sustainability is happening faster than the damage done by industrial civilization. It's great that there is a growing interest in organic gardening in the first world, but, meanwhile, millions of land-based peoples living in the third world are being forced from their land which means they can no longer grow their own food. The first-world organic gardeners are just a trickle compared to that flood. And prior to World War II and the invention of chemical pesticides, all gardening was organic. We aren't exactly gaining ground.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 54)

So, all that is well and good, but what to do? This is usually the Achilles heel of anarcho-primitivists. Once they have us convinced that the problem is civilization itself, then they need to offer an alternative. That is what this book is supposed to be about, actually. In this chapter, though, McBay simply lays out the main characteristics of what he considers an effective solution:

They address root problems and are based on a "big picture" understanding of the situation. They include a long-term view of our situation, a critique of civilization, and a long-term plan.

A corollary of that is that the solutions should involve a higher level of strategic rigor. They should not be based on beautiful yet abstract ideas about what might make a better world, but derive from a tangible strategy that proposes a plan of action from point A to point B.

They enable many different people to work toward addressing the problem. Rather than being dependent on elites, solutions should enable as many people as possible to participate. This is not the same as requiring everyone to act to take down civilization or requiring the majority of people to act in a way we don't reasonably expect them to act. It does mean, however, that our strategy should include a way for all —from the most restrained to the most militant— to have a role if they desire.

Effective solutions are suitable to the scale of the problem, and take into account the reasonable lead time required for action and the number of people expected to act. If we can only expect a small number of people to take serious action, then our plans must only require a small number of people.

They involve immediate action AND planning for further long-term action. Crises like global warming cannot be addressed too soon. The most immediate action should target the worst contributors to each hazard, and happen as soon as possible. Subsequent actions should work their way down the severity scale.

They make maximum use of available levers and fulcrums. Which is to say, they play to our strenghts and take advantage of the weaknesses of those who are trying to detroy the world. Each act should make as much impact as possible on as many different problems as possible.

And ultimately, of course, effective solutions must directly or indirectly work toward taking down civilization.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 56-57)

Chapter 3, Liberals and Radicals, also authored by Lierre Keith, tries to make a clear distinction between liberalism and radicalism. The whole chapter may confuse non-Americans, but it is quite necessary in a place like the United States. After all, they are so used to the two-party system, a set of political choices limited to the Democratic Party and the Republican Party that the political labels, as many other things, are redefined in the country, quite often in contradiction to how they are understood anywhere else in the world and even ignoring the historical origins of the terms. So, nobody should be surprised to hear an American conservative complain about the "radical tenets" and "socialist ideas" of the US liberals (?!), in spite of the fact t that liberalism and socialism have little in common. As a matter of fact, the very foundations of the United States are more liberal than anything else. Therefore, Keith has to star by clarifying the distinction, something that, as I said, non-Americans may find a bit strange:

One would hope that a looming mass extinction would compel us to seek something beyond emotional solace wrapped in pseudospiritual platitudes. But strategies for action are an affront to the faithful, who need to believe in individual action. This faith is really just liberalism writ large. One of the cardinal differences between liberals —those who insist that Everything Will Be Okay— and the truly radical is in their conception of the basic unit of society. This split is a continental divide. Liberals believe that a society is made up of individuals. Individualism is so sacrosanct that, in this view, being identified as a member of a group or class is an insult. But for radicals, society is made up of classes (economic ones in Marx's original version) or any groups or castes. In the radical's understanding, being a member of a group is not an affront. Far from it; identifying with a group is the first step toward political consciousness and ultimately effective political action.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 62)

Clearly, what Keith defines here as "radicalism" is usually known in the rest of the world as socialism. I suppose that she refrains from using that other word because, as everyone knows, it is a "dirty word" in the United States. As a consequence, the end result is that we muddy up the waters but, really, labels are labels. Let's agree to call it "radicalism". In the end, what truly matter is what we stand for and how we live, not so much the labels.

The next step is even more difficult to take in a land where people still believe fervently in their own national myths. Keith explains why the liberalism that imbued the spirit of the Founding Fathers is actually seriously flawed. Worse yet, it clearly serves the purpose of furthering the material interests of an economic, political, cultural and racial elite:

Those original market economies in the West, and, indeed, around the world, were nestled inside a moral economy informed by community networks of care, concern, and responsibilities. Property owners and moneylenders were restricted by community norms and the influence of extralegal leaders like elders, healers, and religious officers. This social world was held together by personal bonds of affection and mutual obligation. These were precisely the bonds that the rising capitalist class needed to destroy. Their concept of freedom meant freedom from those obligations and responsibilites. In their schema, individuals were free from traditional moral and community values, as well as from the king and landed gentry, to pursue their own financial interests. What held this social world together wasn't bonds of affection and obligation, but impersonal contracts —and impersonal contracts favored the rich, the employers, the landlords, the owners, and the creditors while dispossessing the poor, the employees, the tenants, the slaves, and the debtors.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 64)

Obviously, that is far from the Disneyesque manner in which the ideology of the Founding Fathers has always been portrayed (and, indeed, it still is being portrayed to our youth in school) in the USA. In that sense, I have always wondered in amazement how American conservatives criticize liberalism and put the blame on "liberal cultural practices" when decrying the hedonism and relativism of younger generations while, at the same time, defending the very form of extreme individualism that both characterizes real liberalism (as opposed to the mere hodgepodge collection of negative ideas that, according to them, passes as liberalism) and favors the expansion of an economic system (capitalism, another "dirty word" in the USA) that so clearly undermines society as whole and any sort of social bonding. In other words, what fascinates me is how American conservatives fail to see the connection between an economic system that only cares about economic success by selling more and more products regardless of the moral implications, on the one hand, and moral relativism and hedonism, on the other. This has always baffled me since I first arrived in this country. As a matter of fact, the obvious contradiction that brings them to support and promote rah-rah capitalism, as well as individualism, while complaining about the erosion of "social mores" is just appalling.

However, as Keith correctly points out, even more worrisome is the fact that the American left is also polluted by this pervasive form of liberalism:

At this moment, the liberal basis of most progressive movements is impeding our ability, individually and collectively, to take action. The individualism of liberalism, and of American society generally, renders too many of us unable to think clearly about our dire situation. Individual action is not an effective response to power because human society is political; by definition it is built from groups, not from individuals. That is not to say that individual acts of physical and intellectual courage can't spearhead movements. But Rosa Parks didn't end segregation on the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system. Rosa Parks plus the stalawart determination and strategic savvy of the entire black community did.

Liberalism also diverges from a radical analysis on the question of the nature of social reality. Liberalism is idealist. This is the belief that reality is a mental activity. Oppression, therefore, consists of attitudes and ideas, and social change happens through rational argument and education. Materialism, in contrast, is the understanding that society is organized by concrete systems of power, not by thoughts and ideas, and that the solution to oppression is to take those systems apart brick by brick. This in no way implies that individuals are exempt from examining their privilege and behaving honorably. It does mean that antiracism workshops will never end racism: only political struggled to rearrange the fundamentals of power will.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 68-69)

This is indeed a fundamental difference between the American left and the European left. Because the European left (as weel as what we woud call these days "progressive movements") has traditionally being more influenced by socialism and Marxism, it is inextricably linked to a materialist approach to reality. In Europe, the left tends to see social realtions as relations imbued of power, as extensions of economic power, as a matter of fact. Therefore, as Keith explains, while not denying the importance of an indiviaul behavior that is consistent with one's own ideas, it tends to emphasize collective action in the political realm. In the United States, on the other hand, at least since the 1960s, the emphasis has been on the "individual experience", the workshops, the self-help approach and the education. American progressives are truly convinced that it is possible to change the world one mind at a time through some sort of Christian-style evangelization, while the Europeans tend to see the individual in relationship to a whole, the social context in which he/she lives. Incidentally, this also accounts for the different approaches to the politically correct movement, although that has also been changing in Europe as its own left has become more and more like the type of social liberalism represented by the Democratic Party in the United States.

In general, Keith argues, a system of oppression revolves around four basic elements: hierarchy, objectification, submission and violence. Likewise, any resistance to such system revolves around four broad categories of action: legal remedies, direct action, withdrawal, and spirituality. All four can be viewed and applied from either a liberal or a radical perspective, the first being quite inconsequential and ineffectual, while the latter being more conducive to bringing about real change:

Remember that liberalism is a combination of idealism with individualism. For liberals, social reality is comprised of individuals, and it's essentially an intellectual event. Oppression is not about concrete systems of power to liberals, but about ideas and attitudes. Hence, education and moral suasion are the order of the day.

This has stranded the left with tactics that range from innefectual to ridiculous. Nobody cares if we light candles to stop global warming; asking nicely will not help. This kind of pleading also keeps us forever trapped in a posture of dependent children. If we're good —compliant, quiet, well-behaved— if we follow the rules —someone in authority will listen and care. Meanwhile, power couldn't care less. Power will only care when it's threatened. And none of the strategies currently acceptable on the left contain any threat, precisely because liberalism deeply misuderstands the nature of power.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 103)

Now, this distinction between liberalism and radicalism, as well as the concomittant distinction between individual and collective resistance, brings about another issue that most people in the left, Keith feels, find utterly bothersome: the issue of violence. In this sense, she argues that the American left is also quite confused about how things truly work:

The left has often operated on the smug or sentimental belief that nonviolence works only by personal, moral example. It doesn't. Having said that, there is a moral high ground that has historically been useful for nonviolent struggles. When actionists stick to nonviolence while being attacked by the police or military, there is often an upswell of sympathy amongst the general public. Sharp calls this phenomenon a form of "political jujitsu." If you are building a mass movement, then nonviolent discipline is a good technique to employ for this reason alone. But we cannot lose sight of the nature of power and the nature of the struggle that is required to change it. Against power, only force will work. Progressives have repeatedly refused to understand that, from the abolitionists who thought that a pending spiritual transformation would end slavery, to Gandhi writing a letter to Hitler asking him to stop (and then being schoked when it didn't work), to both whites and blacks in the civil rights movement who thought lunch counter sit-ins were too confrontational.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 105)

In reality, when nonviolence worked, it was at the price of being confrontational. Now, that doesn't necessarily imply the use of physical violence, but it does involve actual confrontation (i.e., a will to stand up to an unjust power, facing the military, the police and time in prison). In other words, the Gandhian nonviolence is actually civil disobedience, and not waving banners at pacific demonstrations, signing petitions and attending workshops (or, worse yet, hitting the "like" button on Facebook). Once again, individual action, unless is seen in the context of a community, is pretty much useless. As Keith explains herself:

Nonviolence works by facing the ruthless reality of oppression, identifying its linchpins, and using direct action to interrupt the flow of power and hopefully dislodge some portion of its foundation. Instead of weapons, the technique uses people, usually large numbers of people willing to have direct confrontations with power, which means they risk getting killed. The sooner the left faces the reality of that danger, the better prepared we will be to make strategic and tactical decisions, individually and collectively.

Incidentally, another annoying question that the left often prefers to ignore is whether Gandhi's nonviolence tactics would have worked in a truly totalitarian environment, such as that of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, instead of being applied to a relatively civilized government such as that of the British Empire. I have my doubts.

The next chapter, also written by Lierre Keith, is titled Culture of Resistance. Keith does a very quick analysis of some well known cases of resistance against oppressive societies or regimes, discussing everything from the Adamites or the Romantics to the anti-Nazi resistance and, of course, the counterculture of the 1960s. Interestingly enough, in my view, when discussing the "culture of resistance", Keith does not cover the socialist movement in all its expressions which is, I would say, a significant missing piece in the chapter. However, there is a reason why she does not discuss socialist resistance: her interest is to emphasize the uselessness of individual resistance inspired in liberal principles. Indeed, one would have to agree that today's progressives in the USA can only be labeled as liberal, and do tend to behave along the lines of what Keith describes:

This focus on individual change is a hallmark of liberalism. It comes in a few different flavors, different enough that their proponents don't recognize that they are all in the same category. But underneath the surface differences, the commonality of individualism puts all of these subgroups on a continuum. It starts with the virulently antipolitical dwellers in workshop culture; only individuals (i.e., themselves) are a worthy project and only individuals can change. The continuum moves toward more social consciousness to include people who identify oppression as real but still earnestly believe in liberal solutions, mainly education, psychological change, and "personal example." It ends at the far extreme where personal lifestyle becomes personal purity and identity itself is declared a political act. These people often have a compelling radical analysis of oppression, hard won and fiercely defended. This would include such divergent groups as vegans, lesbian separatists , and anarchist rewilders. They would all feel deeply insulted to be called liberals. But if the only solutions proposed encompass nothing larger than personal action —and indeed political resistance is rejected as "participation" in an oppressive system— then the program is ultimately liberal, and doomed to fail, despite the clarity of the analysis and the dedication of its adherents.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 128)

Incidentally, I would add that it is precisely this reliance on liberalism that has brought much of the left to the realm of identity politics. Such approach was not present in the classical socialist movement (what Keith prefers to call "radical movement"). Identity was (it has always been, of course) an important issue, but at the individual level. If anything, as the Anarchists did for a long time, there would be a clear demand that individual identity were protected from the excesses of society at large, but nobody on the radical left would ever consider to put together an ideology that would revolve around a limited set of demands all of them related to individual identity.

Keith thinks that the deep root of this approach to politics can be found in nineteenth-century Romanticism:

The legacy of the Romantics is especially prominent in the politics of emotion embraced by many different strands of the alternative culture. Emotions are understood as pure, unmediated by society, a society whose main offense is seen to be the suppression of these always-authentic feelings. The paramount emotional state varies —for the hippies and New Agers, it's love; for the punks, it's rage; and for the Goths, it's exquisite suffering— but the ultimate goal is to achieve the selected emotion and maintain it. Emotional states are not always clearly defined as a goal in these subcultures, but these efforts are accepted as the unexamined norms.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 135)

Sounds familiar? Of course it does. Express yourself. That is all that is truly needed. Let's just make sure that we can all express ourselves, show our own inner selves, our "true" selves, and revolution will be accomplished. As an old socialist might have said, it's "revolution" for a petit-bourgeois. No wonder that "social transformation" has become an issue of how many yoga and meditation classes one can attend, how much one enjoys planting pretty flowers in the community garden, or the love one spreads among fellow humans in the form of "good vibrations". It is all very New Ageish, very hippie, very "positive" and "life transforming"... except that, of course, nothing changes. Destruction, oppression and exploitation go on as usual, and we continue getting closer and closer to the cliff. No amount of "positive reinforcement" and "good vibrations" will change that. The material reality is still what it is. It will not change because we concentrate very hard, pray, and say "Om" very loud. Our "spritual force" will not move reality a single inch closer to a sustainable future. It will certainly will not make those who profit from destruction and oppression (which, truth be told, includes us most of the times) change the way they do things. Individual resistance only makes us feel more "pure". It may help us solve whichever psychological shortcomings we may have. However, what it will not do is undermine the current system of exploitation in any shape or form.

Yet, the youth-oriented culture that we live in (incidentally, something that was promoted and brought about by the social movements in the 1960s) does little to promote a real culture of resistance:

Building radical movements has been harder since the creation of a youth culture. Breaking the natural bonds (could there be a deeper bond than the cross generational one between mother and child?) between young and old means that the political wisdom never accumulates. It also means that the young are never socialized into a true culture of resistance. The values of a youth culture —an adolescent stance rejecting all constraints— prevent both the "culture" and the "resistance" from really developing. No culture can exist without community norms based on responsibility to each other and some accepted ways to enforce those norms. And the "resistance" will never amount to more than a few smashed windows, the low-hanging tactical fruit for an adolescent straegy for emotional intensity.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 144)

It is certainly peculiar to read a criticism of the 1960s from a radical perspective, used as we are to only hear criticism against those years coming from the opposite quarters. So much so, indeed, that it is now widely accepted among people in the left that defending the 1960s against all attacks is one of their ideological duties. Yet, as Keith clearly states, there are plenty of elements of that counterculture that could (and, as a matter of fact, should) be criticized from the left:

The alternative culture of the '60s offered a generalized revolt against structure, responsibility and morals. Being a youth culture, and following out of the Bohemian and the Beatniks, this was predictable. But a rejection of all structure and responsibility ends ultimately in atomized individuals motivated only by self interests, which looks rather exactly like capitalism's fabled Economic Man. And a flat out refusal of the concept of morality is the province of sociopaths. This is not a plan with a future.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 149)

Or, to put it differently, ever since the 1960s, being "revolutionary" has also become a pose, one more element of one's carefully crafted social image (what some people call "the me-brand"). Pure image, marketing. Superficial. A big lie. One more element of a society centered around the idea of consumption. The people involved truly do not intend to bring about any change. It is all part of a game. A "lifestyle". A "trend". Resistance has been controlled, and it was done by innoculating into it the very same attitude of superficiality, irresponsibility and selfishness that were spread throughout the rest of society. Thus, we have reached the point where both, those who identify themselves with the dominant system and those who oppose it, share the same goal, to enjoy themselves as if there is no tomorrow... perhaps because, after all, there may be no tomorrow.

But how did we end up here? Keith also wonders:

How did this happen? When did people stop caring? One insight of Marxist cultural theorists like Antonio Gramsci is that in order for oppression to function smoohtly, ideology must be transferred from the oppressors to the oppressed. They can't stand over us all with guns twenty-four-hours a day. This transfer must be consensual and actively embraced to work on a society-wide scale. If the dominant class can make the ideology pleasurable, so much the better. Nothing could have done the job better than the passivity-inducing, addictive, and isolating technologies of first television and then the Internet.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 151)

Television and the Internet are, obviously, but two more tools among many that are used to convince people to "behave". As a matter of fact, ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, I would say that that control is not so much exerted by convincing us to behave in a given manner (which it is obviously done too) as by convincing us that there is no alternative. The key concept now is precisely that the status quo is all there is and all there will ever be. There is no way out. No alternative. "That was already tried with socialism, and see what a big failure that was!", we are continuously told. We are just told to accept the current status quo (call it what you may, capitalism, industrial society, civilization...) as a given and, then, try our best to climb the social ladder within its limits.

So, how do we define resistance, then?

Resistance is a simple concept: power, unjust and immoral, is confronted and dismantled. The powerful are denied their right to hurt the less powerful. Domination is replaced by equity in a shift or substitution of institutions. That shift eventually forms new human relationships, both personally and across society.

Most of the population is never going to join an actual resistance. We're social creatures; by definition, it's hard to stand against the herd. Add to that how successful systems of oppression are at disabling the human capacity for resistance. As Andrea Dworkin said, "Feminism requires precisely what misogyny destroys in women: unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power. The pool of potential resisters is going to be small. Conformity brings rewards and privileges; fighting back brings punishment and alienation. Most people are not psychologically suited to the requirements of resistance. The sooner we accept that, the better.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 167)

Are there any examples of such resistance? Something that goes beyond the "resistance as a pose" that spread throughout the world in recent times? Keith mentions a few examples in passing: the Spanish Anarchists, the suffragists and a few others. In all cases, those who resisted had a firm commitment to a set of principles and ideas, showed loyalty to each other and their leaders, were willing to sacrifice their own interests and, above all, organized. For a culture of resistance, Keith argues, can only exist in a context of solidarity among equals. Unfortunately, our sense of community has been seriously diminished in the past few decades:

The radical environmental movement is largely white and well-assimilated into the noncommunity of corporate-controlled, mass-media dominated, industrially produced culture of the contemporary United States and its colonies. Community has been destroyed to the point where we don't know the names of the people living twenty feet from us and communicatin has been reduced to keystrokes of consonants. Those of us from that world are not even starting from scratch; we're starting from negative. Hopefully, we can learn by example from comrades who come from more intact communities, from elders who remember a way of life organized around human needs instead of corporate profits, and from history. Necessity will have to reinvent us. Or, as Monique Wittig famously wrote, "Remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent."

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 179)

The authors of the book call their readers to start that culture of resistance here and now.

The environmental movement has made a choice, a choice we're asking each reader to reevaluate against industrial culture's relentless assault on our planet. The collective decision to date has been to reject the possibility of a serious resistance movement. That conclusion has been fostered by many cultural forces, some of which, as we have seen, go back centuries. Religious movements, from both East and West, have long declared the world a place of suffering and corruption, with withdrawal and personal salvation as the corrective activities. Classical liberalism, with its individualism and idealism, has also been a continuous drain of confusion and obstruction. The contemporary alternative culture, with its roots in the Lebensreform, Wandervogel, and Bohemian movements, has for over a hundred years been pulled between poles of confronting power and breaking boundaries, of fighting for justice on the one hand and displays of adolescence intensity on the other.

This is the moment when we have to decide: does a world exist outside ourselves and is that world worth fighting for? Another 200 species went extinct today. They were my kin. They were yours, too. If we know them as such, why aren't we fighting to save them with everything we've got?

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 182-183)

Chapter 5, titled Other Plans, is also written by Lierre Keith. She starts by listing what needs to happen if we truly want to save the planet: bruning fossil fuels has to stop; all activities that destroy living communities must cease, forever; human consumption has got to be scaled back; and human population must be reduced. Overall, I would say the list is clear, concise and resonable. Some may find it too extreme. On the other hand, I am afraid the only reason why it may sound too radical or extreme is precisely because the situation of the planet is by now quite extreme. Then, Keith goes on to talk about the three main positions that people appeat to be taking within the environmentalist community which, she argues, are nothing but dead ends:

  1. Tilters, so named because they're tilting at windmills. These technofixers would leave industrialization and corporate capitalism in place, replacing fossil fuels with wind, solar, geothermal, and other so-called renewables. Lester Brown and Al Gore are two prime examples. They see that institutional change is necessary, which is true, but that change is identified as industrial culture switching to renewables as it continues to devour the earth.
  2. Descenders. In his book The Long Descent, John Michael Greer argues that the oil economy will slow to a halt over a few generations. For Descenders, there is nothing much to fear and certainly nothing to be done beyond personal and local community preparation for energy descent. Cataclysmic cimate change and ecosystem collapse are eerily absent from the future, and fighting back, of course, is never mentioned.
  3. Lifers. They acknowledge resource depletion, energy descent, the destructive nature of industrial civilization, and the looming catastrophe of global warming, yet institutional change is foreclosed, and fighting back is discouraged if it's even considered. They urge personal lifestyle change and the concept of "lifeboats" as the only possible solution.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 195)

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to explaining why each of these three positions will not solve our current problems. I will not enter into much detail here, but, first of all, regarding the tilters, Keith explains that capitalism needs endless growth, which is truly impossible in a finite planet, no matter how we look at it. But, aside from that fact, capitalism also destroys democracy and does not respond to our human needs. Its sole purpose is to generate profit, not to satisfy our needs (especially not our collective needs, I would add). Regardless, the tilters come up with pipe in the sky schemes to provide the energy needed to continue running industrial society without polluting and destroying natural resources, but the reality is that renewable energies do not appear to be able to provide us with the amount of energy we currently consume in the short or middle run. The descenders, on the other hand, seem to forget that, while there might have been civilizations and cultures in the past that slowly descended and transformed into something else, this happened at a time when intact biotic communities that allowed them to take refuge still existed. That is not the case nowadays, though. Our industrial civilization is global in character. In the meantime, they also seem to forget that our activities may indeed trigger some massive extinction that will cause a sudden collapse of the whole system that keeps us alive. Finally, the lifers are guilty of a similar sin: where do we escape? Perhaps even more worrisome: if we manage to escape and build a perfect community somewhere based on the principles of permaculture, how long before the desperate masses of the dispossessed manage to invade us just to be able to survive? Keith's criticism of the three positions are, I think, quite reasonable.

Chapter six, A Taxonomy of Action, written by Aric McBay, offers a clear list of the different types of action that could conceivably fall under the label of a culture of resistance. These actions span from acts of omission to acts of commission which, in turn, include both indirect and direct action. McBay does not appear to be very optimistic about the acts of omission:

The most generalized act of omission is a withdrawal from larger society or emigration to a different society. Both are common in history. These choices are often the result of desperation, of a sense of having run out of other options, of the status quo being simply intolerable. Of course, if the culture you are leaving is so terrible, good people leaving is unlikely to reform or improve it. Which doesn't mean people shouldn't emigrate or try to leave intolerable or dangerous social situations. It just means that leaving, in and of itself, isn't a political strategy likely to affect positive change.

Perhaps the biggest problem with withdrawal as a strategy now is that civilization is global. Where are you going to go? Where do you think you can escape climate change, for example? There is no shortage of labor, so huge numbers of people would have to withdraw in order to make a difference. Not buying things will not end the capitalist economy, and refusing to pay taxes will not bring down the government. If you did have enough people to do such things, you would become a threat, a dangerous example, and would be treated accordingly. As soon as enough people withdrew to become a bad example, civilization would go after them, thus ending their withdrawal and forcing them to engage with it, either by giving in or fighting back.

History alrady tells us that withdrawing is not an option that the civilized will allow. First Nations people across Canada and the US, for instance, were not allowed to remain outside of the invading European civilization. Their children were taken by force to be abused —"enculturated"— and forced into settler culture.

It's a paradox. Withdrawal can only persist when it is ineffective, and so is useless as a resistance strategy.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 251-252)

Acts of commission can be, of course, of different types: lobbying, protests and symbolic acts, education and awareness raising, support work and building alternatives, capacity building and logistics and, finally, direct confrontation and conflict. In all cases, though, they must occur in the context of a true culture of resistance that goes beyond a mere individual choice or personal lifestyle. Thus, when discussing education and awareness raising as a tool, McBay points out:

For public education to work, several condition must be met. The resistance education and propaganda must be able to outcompete the mass media. The general public must be able and willing to unravel the prevailing falsehoods, even if doing that contravenes their own social, psychological, and economic self-interest. They must have accessible ways to change their actions, and they must choose morally preferable actions over convenient ones. Unfortunately, none of these conditions are in place right now.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 259)

The same limits apply to the other methods, of course. They have to be understood in a particular context.

But what form is direct action resistance going to take? That is where the authors definitely par ways with the mainstream of the contemporary enviromentalist movement in the USA, for they are willing to entertain the use of violence. As a matter of fact, in page 264, McBay clearly describes the "four basic ways to directly confront those in power": obstruction and occupation; reclamation and expropiation; property and material destruction (threats or acts); and violence against humans (threats or acts). However, it is important to stress that they do differentiate between violence for a strategic purpose and gratuitous violence, such as that applied by the members of the Red Army Faction in Germany. Needless to say, the main problem here is to be able to differentiate between one and the other. How can we tell where the limits are? How can we differentiate between necessary violence and gratuitous one? Even more to the point, is it not too easy to enter a vicious downward spiral where one can justify pretty much any type of violence for its own sake? It has certainly happened many times before, including in the case of the Red Army Faction that McBay briefly discusses.

Beyond the ethical considerations about violence, McBay also considers another issue related to its use:

It's sometimes argued that the use of violence is never justifiable strategically, because the state will always have the larger ability to escalate beyond the resistance in a cycle of violence. In a narrow sense, that's true, but in a wider sense it's misleading. Successful resistance groups almost never attempt to engage in overt armed conflict with those in power (except in late-stage revolutions, when the state has weakened and revolutionary forces are large and well-equipped). Guerrilla groups focus on attacking where they are strongest, and those in power are weakest. The mobile, covert, hit-and-run nature of their strategy means that they can cause extensive disruption while (hopefully) avoiding government reprisals.

Furthermore, the state's violent response isn't just due to the use of violence by the resistance, it's a reponse to the effectiveness of the resistance. We've seen that again and again, even where acts of omission have been the primary tactics. Those in power will use force and violence to put down any major threat to their power, regardless of the particular tactics used. So trying to avoid a violent state response is hardly a universal argument against the use of defensive violence by a resistance group.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 270-271)

McBay even discusses a couple of cases that he considers examples of such successful violent resistance: the prisoners of the extermination camp at Sobibor, who managed to escape after organizing an uprising; and the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II. However, I have to disagree with McBay on these examples, which I do not find convincing at all. As a matter of fact, it seems clear to me that he contradicts what Lierre Keith stated in a previous chapter. In the case of the prisoners, a good amount of them died in the process of escaping the extermination camp or immediately thereafter and, most important of all, they had somewhere to escape, which is precisely what, according to Keith, we just do not have anymore. What McBay presents here as a model to follow is precisely what Keith previously criticized as the answer defended by the so-called lifters. So, I just cannot see how that example could be applied to our particular situation. As for the French Resistance, it should be obvious that it only worked because the Allies were winning their war against the Axis powers. However, we do not have any external military force that is about to win a war against civilization. Without that other front to pay attention to, my guess is that the Germans would have smashed the resistance without much problem.

Having said that, I have to agree with McBay's statements about the use of violence. There is no doubt in my mind that, when a non-violent resistance truly has victory within reach, the state will respond using violence. It has happened many times before. The tactics employed by the state in such situations is always the same: repression, coup and even open war, if needed. Those in power will not let go off their control simply because the majority of people politely asks for it. Even our democratic institutions are quite limited and powerless in that sense. The powerful let them function for as long as they do not pose any direct and clear threat to their interests. No social and labor rights, no political rights whatsoever were ever won by means of the ballot box alone. At the very least, there was always social pressure in the form of strikes, demonstrations and other types of protests. Otherwise, the powerful do not give in after listening to carefully worded arguments. We cannot be that naive.

The second part of the book, dedicated to the organization of the green resistance the authors propose, contains plenty of more or less detailed information on how to organize both, aboveground and underground operations. All the chapters in this section are authored by Aric McBay, and their titles clearly indicate the nature of their content: chapter 7 is titled The Psychology of Resistance, chapter 8 is Organization Structure, chapter 9 Decision Making, chapter 10 Recruitment, and chapter 11 Security. I will not provide any quotes or detailed analysis of that section, since it is clearly aimed at laying out the main outlines of the day to day operations of a resistance group. I just do not have much to say about the quality of this section of the book, since I am by no means an expert in military or guerrilla fighting. As a topic, it never interested me much, to be honest. So, I am not even qualified to express an opinion about McBay's positions on all these issues. Perhaps he is right, perhaps he is not. It could very well be that his ideas are drastically outdated and suicidal. I do not know. However, I must say that, reading these chapters, sometimes I had the uncomfortable feeling that these pages were written by a middle class boy playing with guns and posing as a revolutionary. Sort of like the attitude plenty of rebels had back in the 1960s.

Part three of the book is dedicated to the strategy and tactics of the resistance movement. In chapter 12, titled Introduction to Strategy, and also written by McBay, we read a basic introduction to the concept of strategy, whose importance can perhaps be summarized by the following paragraph:

There is a finite number of possible actions, and a finite amount of time, and resisters have finite resources. There are no perfect actions. Prevailing dogma puts the onus on dissenters to be "creative" enough to find a "win-win" solution that pleases those in power and those who disagree, that stops the destruction of the planet but permits the continuation of business as usual and lifestyles of conspicuous consumption. If resisters fall prey to this belief, if they accept its absurd and contradictory premises, they are engineering their own defeat before the fact. If resisters believe this, they are accepting all blame for the actions of those in power, accepting that the problems they face are their fault for not being "innovative" enough, rather than the fault of those in power for deliberately destroying the world to enrich themselves.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 352)

In other words, the green resistance should have very clear its goals, as well as the strategy devised to achieve those goals. Then, move on from there:

Conceptually, strategy is simple. First understand the context: where are we, what are our problems? Then, develop the goal(s): where do we want to be? Identify the priorities. Now figure out what actions are needed to get from point A to point B. Finally, identify the resources, people, and specific operations needed to carry out those activities.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 354)

This involves defining what the author calls decisive operations (i.e., the ones that "directly accomplish the task"), sustaining operations (the ones that "enable shaping and decisive operations") and, finally, shaping operations (the ones that "create and preserve conditions for the success of the decisive operation"). McBay then discusses the strategic failures and successes of different resistance movements, including the terrorist Red Army Faction in Germany, the resistance to the Nazis during Second World War and abolitionist movement in the United States. This latter experience is quite interesting, in the sense that it clearly shows how those in power will invariably use brute force to stop any threat:

Many white abolitionists retained their pacifist beliefs and practices, but as the abolition movement grew, it was increasingly perceived as a threat by slaveholders and those in power. An escalating wave of violent repression occurred, in which abolitionists and their allies were attacked, and their mailings and offices were burned. Many white abolitionists abandoned pacifism after white newspaper editor and abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was gunned down in his office by proslavery thugs. William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the foundational abolitionist paper the Liberator, wrote: "When we first unfurled the banner of the Liberator... we did not anticipate that, in order to protect southern slavery, the free states would voluntarily trample under foot all law and order, and government, or brand the advocates of universal liberty as incendiaries and outlaws... It did not occur to us that almost every religious sect, and every political party would side with the oppressor." Of course, they did not consider and dismiss the idea —it simply didn't occur to them. This repression did, however, induce increasing numbers for Northerners to join with the abolitionists out of concern for the violations of law by the government and antiabolitionists.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 376-377)

Obviously, we all know that the movement ended with a bloody civil war that, in spite of all the suffering, still did not end racism and segregation.

In chapter 13, McBay tells us about Tactics and Targets:

Where tactics fall depends on the strategic goal. If the strategic goal is to be self-sufficient, then planting a garden may very well be a decisive operation, because it directly accomplishes the objective, or part of it. But if the strategic goal is bigger —say, stopping the destruction of the planet— then planting a garden cannot be considered a decisive operation, because it's not the absence of gardens that is destroying the planet. It's the presence of an omnicidal capitalist industrial system.

If one's strategic goal is to dismantle the system, then one's tactical categories would reflect that. The only decisive actions are those that directly accomplish that goal. Planting a garden —as wonderful and important as that may be— is not a decisive operation. It may be a shaping or sustaining operation under the right circumstances, but nothing about gardening will directly stop this culture from killing the planet, nor dismantle the hierarchical and explotative systems that are causing this ecocide. Remember, the world used to be filled with indigenous societies which were sustainable and enduring. Their sustainability did not prevent civilization from decimating them again and again.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 391-392)

That is indeed worth remembering, especially if you live in the US, where the traditionally liberal approach to these issues by most of those people who care about the environment tends to lead to a form of low-level activism limited to community gardens and compost systems. It is not that these are bad ideas, but they certainly will not bring about the change most people hope for.

McBay goes on to discuss aboveground and underground tactics, including considerations about target selection which, according to th author, should be guided by the following four criteria: criticality, or how important the target is to the enemy; vulnerability, or how tough the target is; accessibility, or how easy is it to get near the target; and recuperability, or how much effort will it take to rebuild or replace the target. In this sense, McBay is certainly not impressed by what the green resistance movement has accomplished so far:

One of the reasons that the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) has had limited decisive success so far is that its targets have had low criticality and high recuperability. New suburban subdivisions are certainly crimes against ecology, but partially constructed homes are not very important to those in power, and they are relatively replaceable. The effect is primarily symbolic, and it's hard to find a case in which a construction project has actually been given up because of ELF activity —although many have certainly been made more expensive.

Most often, it seems that resistance targets in North America are chosen on the basis of vulnerability and accessibility, rather than on criticality. It's easy to walk up to a Walmart window and smash it in the middle of the night or to destroy a Foot Locker storefront during a protest march. Aggressive symbolic attacks do get attention, and if a person's main indicator of success is a furor on the 10:00 pm news, then igniting the local Burger King is likely to achieve that. But making a decisive impact on systems of power and their basis of support is more difficult to measure. If those in power are clever, they'll downplay the really damaging actions to make themselves seem invulnerable, but cream bloody murder over a smashed window in order to whip up public opinion. And isn't that what often happens on the news? If a biotech office is smashed and not a single person injured, the corporate journalists and pundits start pontificating about "violence" and "terrorism." But if a dozen US soldiers are blown up by insurgents in Iraq, the White House press secretary will calmly repeat over and over that "America" is winning and that these incidents are only minor setbacks.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 418-419)

In any case, regardless of the tactics employed by the resistance, McBay warns, reprisals from those in power are guaranteed:

Anyone who casts their lot with a resistance movement must be prepared for reprisals. Those reprisals will come whether the actionists are aboveground or underground, choosing violence or nonviolence. Many activists, especially from privileged backgrounds, naïvely assume that fighting fair will somehow cause those in power to do the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. The moment that any power structure feels threatened, it will retaliate. It will torture Buddhists and nuns, turn fire hoses on school children, and kill innnocent civilians. A brief perusal of Amnesty International's website will acquaint you with nonviolent protestors around the globe currently being detained and tortured or who have disappeared for simple actions like letter writing or peacebly demonstrating.

This is a reality that privileged people must come to terms with or else any movement risks a rupture when power comes down on actionists. Those retaliations are not anyone's fault; they are to be expected. Any serious resistance movement should be intellectually and emotionally prepared for the power structure's response. People are arrested, detained, and killed —often in large numbers— when power strikes back. Those who provide a challenge to power will be faced with consequences, some of them inhumanly cruel. The sooner everyone understands that, the better prepared we all will be to handle it.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 420-421)

Chapter 14, also written by McBay, is titled Decisive Ecological Warfare. McBay discusses the different "collapse scenarios" that we have ahead of us:

At this point in history, there are no good short-term outcomes for global human society. Some are better and some are worse, and in the long term some are very good, but in the short term we're in a bind. I'm not going to lie to you —the hour is too late for cheermongering. The only way to find the best outcome is to confront our dire situation head on, and not to be diverted by false hopes.

Human society —because of civilization, speifically— has painted itself into a corner. As a species we're dependent on the draw down of finite supplies of oil, soil, and water. Industrial agriculture (and annual grain agriculture before that) has put us into a vicious pattern of population growth and overshoot. We long ago exceeded carrying capacity, and the workings of civilization are destroying that carrying capacity by the second. This is largely the fault of those in power, the wealthiest, the states and corporations. But the consequences —and the responsibility for dealing with it— fall to the rest of us, including nonhumans.

Physically, it's not too late for a crash program to limit births to reduce the population, cut fossil fuel consumption to nil, replace agricultural monocrops with perennial polycultures, end overfishing, and cease industrial encroachment on (or destruction of) remaining wild areas. There's no physical reason we couldn't start all of these things tomorrow, stop global warming in its tracks, reverse overshoot, reverse erosion, reverse aquifer drawdown, and bring back all the species and biomes currently on the brink. There's no physical reason we couldn't get together and act like adults and fix these problems, in the sense that it isn't against the laws of physics.

But socially and politically, we know this is a pipe dream. There are material systems of power that make this impossible as long as those systems are still intact. Those in power get too much money and privilege from destroying the planet. We aren't going to save the planet —or our own future as a species— without a fight.

What's realistic? What options are actually available to us, and what are the consequences? What follows are three broad and illustrative scenarios: one in which there is no substantive or decisive resistance, one in which there is limited resistante and a relatively prolonged collapse, and one in which all-out resistance leads to the immediate collapse of civilization and global industrial infrastructure.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 425-426)

As with many other things on this book, it is difficult to argue against that description of the problem. It truly does look as if we are headed for a huge collapse of the whole civilization if we do not do something to stop it. And yet, on the other hand, the interests involved are so strong (as well as the bad habits and inertia of us all) that it certainly does not look likely to change anytime soon. Or, to put it in terms that are quite familiar to us all, there is a good chance that things will get way worse before there is even a chance that they will get any better. Of course, that is precisely the problem. We are talking about a system that encompasses the whole planet. It is global in nature. Worse yet, contemporary capitalism has gone beyond the wildest dreams of those who thought that the best way to proceed was to gamble our future on globalization. Not only the economy is now global, but also the cultures, the media, the entertainment, the political institutions, the wars... and, obviously, the natural resources too. When you are driving a truck the size of the whole planet Earth, it is not so easy to turn in a completely different direction all of a sudden.

In any case, McBay, just like Keith and Jensen, believes that fighting (understood as a combination of armed struggle and legal resistance) is the only meaningful choice we have left. They seem convinced that something like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) offers the best model to follow. I am sorry to say I am not so sure about it. For starters, I think they glorify and romanticize the MEND. When one starts reading a bit about them, it is far from clear that they truy offer a workable model. It is also far from clear that they are carrying out any sort of environmental fight. To me, it looks more like a traditional trinal or, perhaps, political fight, but always within the usual framework of economic growth. And, finally, although I am perfectly aware that the authors of this book deeply dislike the position, one just wonders how planting bombs here and there, even disrupting some infrastructures (I remark the word "some") is truly supposed to accomplish much, especially if we continue living and thinking the same way we always did. Contrary to what the authors maintain, I think there is something to say in favor of those who speak for a change in people's hearts and minds, as well as in our own daily behaviors. How else are we supposed to solve the problems we face? We sure saw a good amount of political revolutions triumphing in the 20th century just to end up bogged down in the quick sands of "business as usual". Unless we change the way to do things, we will solve nothing

Part IV is about the future, and it starts with a chapter titled Our Best Hope, penned by Lierre Keith. Once again, we are told that our best chance is to fight both above ground and under ground:

The IRA had Sinn Fein. The abolition movement had the Underground Railroad, Nat Turner and John Brown, and Bloody Kansas. The suffragists had organizations that lobbied and educated, and then the militant WSPU that burned down train stations and blew up golf courses. The original American patriots had printers and farmers and weavers of homespun domestic cloth, and also Sons of Liberty who were willing to bodily shut down the court system. The civil rights movement had the redefinition of blackness in the Harlem Renaissance and the stability, dignity, and community spirit of the Pullman porters, and then four college students willing to sit down at a lunch counter and face the angry mob. The examples are everywhere across history. A radical movement grows from a culture of resistance, like a seed from soil. And just like soils must have the cradling roots and protective cover of plants, without the actual resistance, no community will win justice or human rights against an oppressive system.

Our best hope will never lie in individual survivalism. Nor does it lie in small groups doing their best to prepare for the worst. Our best and only hope is a resistance movement that is willing to face the scale of the horrors, gather our forces, and fight like hell for all we hold dear. These, then, are the principles of a Deep Green Resistance movement.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 477)

And she goes on to detail six such principles:
  1. Deep Green Resistance recognizes that this culture is insane.
  2. Deep Green Resistance embraces the necessity of political struggle.
  3. Deep Green Resistance must be multilevel.
  4. Deep Green Resistance requires repair of the planet.
  5. Deep Green Resistance means repair of human cultures.
  6. Deep Green Resistance recognizes the necessity of militant action.

It all sounds fine. However, I repeat: The struggle we face has little to do with that of the IRA or the abolitionists. Simply changing allegiances to a new government or changing the law will do nothing in our case. Our problem runs way deeper than that. We need to change a whole system. We need to change a whole lifestyle. That sure wasn't necessary when the Irish achieved their independence or when slavery was abolished. Yes, sure, big changes happened in the lifes of certain people, but society as a whole (actually, civilization, as the authors themselves argue it is needed) did not change.

So, off they go. They continue with their childish plans to bring about a revolution via violent direct action:

In our story, the first direct hit to industrial infrastructure is likely to be something more pragmatic and less daring, like the electric grid. Our actionists have planned well. Remember the four criteria for target selection: the grid is accessible, vulnerable, and critical, and while it is recuperable, the abundance of the first three criteria could potentially make that recuperability more theoretical than practical.

The underground networks can hit a few nodes at once, and the unconnected affinity groups. well versed in DEW [Decisive Ecological Warfare] and DER [Deep Green Resistance] grand strategy, can follow up on the vulnerable targets to which they have access. The first DGR blackout could last days or even weeks.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, p. 503)

Throughout the whole book, one gets the impression that these are a bunch of middle-class rebel kids playing revolution. One imagines pictures of Che Guevara tinted green on their t-shirts.

Interestingly enough, the authors themselves point out how the scale of the problem we face is indeed humongous:

The last two generations have seen a mass migration from rural life to urban, both in the US and around the globe. Those dislocations, caused by economic pressures ultimately based on the application of fossil fuels to civilization, are a billion tears in the weave of human cultures and human hearts. As the oil age shudders and dims, those migrations will naturally reverse if they can. People go where the hope is, especially the hope of basic survival. I say "if they can," though, because the land they have left behind has in many places been reduced to salt flats and sand. Nothing is beyond repair —life wants to live— but their repair may take resources and time that starving people don't have, as well as democratic decision making in areas ruled by corruption. How this will play out is anyone's guess. It's a horrifying race between the forces for life and justice and the accumulated power of the entitled. Kenya's Green Belt Movement is forty-five million trees and one Nobel Peace Prize strong, and is as rooted in democracy and feminism as it is in the regreening slopes of their mountains. "Failure to act now will be catastrophic. This means that we are the only generation of humans ever who are able to effectively respond to this challenge," said the Prize recipient, founder Wangari Maathai. Dust storms from China, meanwhile, have affected air quality in Colorado, 94 percent of Iran's agricultural land is degraded, and one-third of Pakistan is under risk of desertification. All of this shows how absolutely necessary the aboveground and the militants are to each other. DEW alone cannot stop processes of desertification, while all the committed efforts of human rights and democracy activists will not produce the essential changes needed in the time left to our planet.

The crumbling of the global economy could easily mean that in the majority world, where the impoverished majority live, the rural poor get to stay home and the urban poor can return home. For the minority world, where the rich and powerful minority live, Europe is in a very different situation from the United States and Canada, because Europe's built environment was in place long before the age of the automobile, and it was designed to human scale. They have also done a much better job at protecting the farmland outside towns and cities. Sweden, for instance, outlawed shopping malls. Anyone in the US who suggested that would be either tried for treason or burned as a heretic. The average bite of food in the US travels 2,000 miles, in part because it has to: the land around towns and cities has been devoured by asphalt, the sacrifice demanded by the God of Gasoline. As the inimitable James Howard Kunstler puts it, the suburbs are "a living arrangement with no future." That future is almost here, and urbanities in the US and Canada need to face it now, before the laws of physics enforce their own facts. This is true whether or not DGR actionists get serious.

(Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen: Deep Green Resistance, pp. 509-510)

So? Do they truly believe that we will manage to reverse the migration to the cities as the oil age comes to an end by planting bombs and attacking the electric grid? Is that the way to rebuild the world after the global economy crumbles? I appreciate that this book managed to bring forth a couple of very important issues to the debate within the environmental movement (although, for the most part, my feeling is that the book has been ignored): the uselessness of limiting our efforts to individual changes (i.e., without also spearheading efforts to launch a collective struggle and change in a broader political arena) and, second, the need to come up with real objectives and goals that we can touch (i.e., something that goes well beyond the "feel good" approach of today's liberalism). However, my feeling is that the authors, trying to avoid a toothless individualism, fall into the other extreme, almost justifying action for the sake of it. It was the mistake plenty of young militants committed back in the 1970s. We should not fall for that yet again.

Entertainment Factor 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10